Philadelphia, December 30, 2011: The beginning of the New Year is often celebrated with champagne, fireworks and confetti, and unfortunately in some communities those festivities may also include gunfire. District Attorney Seth Williams, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and shooting victim Joe Jaskolka want to remind people that firing guns into the air on New Year’s Eve is not only dangerous, it is illegal.
“There is zero tolerance for people shooting firearms into the air to ‘celebrate’ the holiday,” said District Attorney Seth Williams, “It’s a stupid act that can have deadly consequences, and there is nothing festive about it.”
On December 31, 1998 Joe Jaskolka was struck in the head by a so-called ‘celebratory’ bullet while walking along Fernon Street near Second Street in South Philadelphia. Joe was only 11 years old at the time; the bullet is still lodged in his head and his assailant has never been caught. As a result of that bullet, Joe is paralyzed on the right side of his body and face, and he can’t use the left-side of vocal chords. He is now 24 years old and has undergone 33 surgeries to his brain and 21 surgeries to his eyes. The Jaskolka family estimates that insurers have paid more than $15 (m) million dollars to cover the cost of all of his surgeries, and even after all of those procedures Joe still suffers from double vision and the shaking of his eyes every time he speaks. Joe and his father Gregory Jaskolka join the District Attorney’s Office and the Police Department every year to show the life changing damage that can happen when guns are fired into the air on New Years Eve.
“This is very simple,” said Joe Jaskolka, “what goes up most come down.”
“We went from having an annual New Year’s Eve party to having an annual press conference,” Gregory Jaskolka said.
“This is a senseless act, firing a gun into the air and not thinking about where it’s going to land,” adds District Attorney Williams. “We want people to have a good time, but we don’t want them to be idiots while doing that.”
“Please, enjoy yourself responsibly, “said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “Ring in the New Year in a good way, but don’t put somebody else’s life in jeopardy because you will go to jail.”
Anyone caught shooting a firearm into the air could be charged with Recklessly Endangering Another Person (REAP), which could result in several years in prison if you are convicted. If a bullet hits someone the shooter could be charged with Aggravated Assault, Attempted Murder or even Murder.
Philadelphia police received 117 reports of gunshots fired between 11 p.m. on December 31, 2010 and 3 a.m. on January 1, 2011. On an average night the police might receive a maximum of 10 reports of gunshots fired. The number of legal guns purchased across the country went up dramatically this month alone. According the FBI the number of guns purchased in December topped the previous on-month record which was set in November. Since then there have been 1,534,414 inquiries by gun dealers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System also known as NICS, and almost half a million checks were done the last six days before Christmas.
The amount of guns on Philadelphia streets continues to be a problem and the District Attorney along with Raymond Jones of Philadelphia Safety Net believes this also is a good time to remind people about the importance of gun safety. Philadelphia Safety Net (PSN) provides hand-gun safety educational information and is also active to trying to reduce the number of available guns on Philadelphia streets through city-wide gun turn-ins. Most recently their Goods for Guns effort allowed Philadelphia residents to obtain redeemable vouchers for groceries and clothing items in exchange for hand guns turned in under the supervision and direction of the Philadelphia Police Department. “Our goal is to save Philadelphia one block at a time,” said Raymond Jones.